Thursday, December 14, 2017

Competing interests in U.S.'s Honduras response (Dec. 14, 2017)

Honduras has been in crisis since a disputed election nearly three weeks ago -- tarnished by allegations of fraud and still without an accepted winner. Yesterday U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called on Honduran authorities to uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights following the presidential election.

Earlier this week Human Rights Watch condemned the “strong indications of election fraud” in the elections. "... the claims need to be investigated and the voter’s will respected," said America's Division director José Miguel Vivanco. "At the same time, Honduran authorities need to maintain the right to freedom of assembly and refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force."

But the schisms present in the crisis are not new, explains the New York Times. "The country has lived through a version of this turmoil before. Eight years ago, a leftist president was ousted by a coup in a fight over what his opponents said was a plan to overturn the constitutional ban on a second presidential term. The resistance movement that sprang up to support him has endured, and the discord that split Honduran society then still defines today’s divisions." Stability in the country is important to the United States, which seeks support in stemming drugs and migrants flowing north. "The question is whether the United States is willing to overlook a possibly fraudulent election to ensure that outcome," writes Elizabeth Malkin.

The Los Angeles Times also cites criticisms that the U.S. is prioritizing migration and drug smuggling concerns over democratic concerns. And notes that the Trump administration has been more critical of leftist governments in the region, like Bolivia and Cuba, than violations carried out by the friendly Hernández administration.

This week opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla handed over a USB drive containing 14,364 tally sheets to OAS and EU observers, proof of fraud, he said according to EFE.

And NACLA focuses on the underlying tensions expressed in the crisis, especially the refusal of security forces to repress protests. "On the surface, what’s going on in Honduras is an electoral crisis, and irregularities and widespread allegations of electoral fraud have certainly been the spark and ongoing explicit focus of the crisis. But its roots run deeper. The events of the last two weeks have brought years of contradictions and frustrations bubbling to the surface. The nationwide popular uprising against fraud is also an uprising against increasing authoritarianism and unpopular neoliberal policies. In turn, the violent response to the protests has exposed ongoing tensions within the state, in the form of discontent among security forces."

News Briefs
  • Chileans head to the polls on Sunday, in the second round of voting for their next president. Though polls throughout the year predicted an easy win for former President Sebastián Piñera. But his opponent, center left journalist Alejandro Guillier has garnered the support of presidential candidates who lost the first round, including the more radical Frente Amplio's Beatriz Sánchez, who obtained over 20 percent of the vote in November. The support ups Guillier's potential votes to a technical tie with Piñera, writes Sylvia Colombo in a New York Times Español op-ed. Piñera's narrow margin is also due to his own errors in calculation, she argues, and he is now hurt by having to appeal to more right-wing candidates' electorates. 
  • A Salvadoran court rejected the appeal of a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for what she says was a stillbirth. Prosecutors accuse her of attempting to abort a nearly full-term pregnancy, ending in the death of the baby. The decision was criticized by human rights groups, including Amnesty International. El Salvador is one of a handful of countries in the region with a total abortion ban, but enforces the law in a stringent fashion that critics say criminalizes obstetric complications, reports the Guardian.
  • Nearly four decades after El Salvador's El Mozote massacre, the government has officially recognized that 978 people were murdered, and that most of the supposed guerrillas -- 553 -- were minors. 477 were under 12 years of age. The statistics are the result of a 2012 Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision, and recognize a total of 1,658 victims, including families of those killed, survivors and displaced, reports El Faro.
  • An Ecuadorian court sentenced the country's vice president, Jorge Glas, to six years in jail. He was found guilty of receiving bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, in exchange for state contracts. Prosecutors accuse him of pocketing $13.5 million from Odebrecht through his uncle.  Glas was a close ally of former President Rafael Correa, who is now a strong opponent of his successor, Lenín Moreno. Moreno suspended Glas in August, and the vice president was put in pre-trial detention in October. For Reuters, "Glas’s downfall highlights how fallout from the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal has continued to ripple across South America."
  • Eternal Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) formalized his run for next year's election this week. The former Mexico City mayor narrowly lost to Felipe Calderon in the 2006 presidential race, and was defeated six years later by current President Enrique Peña Nieto. This time the polls favor him, but he will have an uphill battle to convince Mexican's skeptical of his sometimes radical proposals, reports the Los Angeles Times. This week AMLO floated the idea of amnesty to those involved in the drug trade who agreed to rehabilitation, which unpopular among voters. The proposal caused fury among families of drug war victims and accusations of insensitivity, reports the Guardian.
  • Femicides in Mexico increased sharply in recent years, in conjunction with the general rise in violence since a militarized offensive against drug cartels was launched about a decade ago, reports the Associated Press. A new report from Mexico’s interior department, the country’s National Women’s Institute and the UN Women agency said the annual femicide rate was 3.8 per 100,000 women in 1985 before it began a steady decline to 1.9 in 2007. From there it rose sharply to peak at 4.6 per 100,000 in 2012, tapering off in the following years and then rising again last year to 4.4.
  • Senior executives at Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox corporation are accused by U.S. prosecutors of paying millions of dollars in a bribery-for-broadcasting-rights scheme, reports the Guardian.
  • Oft posponed pension reform in Brazil must be voted on by lawmakers next week, or delayed until next year, warned President Michel Temer. He told business leaders that painful cuts in public spending might be needed if the unpopular reform doesn't pass, reports Reuters.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will find out in January if a prison sentence for corruption is upheld, knocking him out of the running for next year's presidential election, reports AFP. Lula was sentenced in July to 9.5 years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in Brazil's huge "Car Wash" graft scandal. The court in Porto Alegre said it will rule on his appeal January 24.
  • Venezuela's opposition accepted the prestigious European Union Sakharav prize for human rights yesterday. Julio Borges, head of the opposition-led National Assembly urged the world to pay attention to next year's presidential election in Venezuela, reports the Guardian.
  • An independent U.N. human rights expert said he met with Venezuelan government officials and pleaded for the release of political detainees, reports the Associated Press.
  • Official statistics on crime in the Caribbean can be misleading, especially in the case of the most common (assault and threat) the most vulnerable victims (women and children), writes Heather Sutton in Carribean Dev Trends, reposted by InSight Crime. "This can lead policymakers to make poor decisions regarding policies and the allocation of resources," she writes, presenting an IADB report looking at victimization surveys to identify underreported crimes.
  • Bermudan lawmakers approved a measure banning same-sex marriage, just months after a supreme court ruling made them legal, reports the Associated Press. The measure allows domestic partnership instead of full-fledged marriage. The vote is a rare reversal in an international trend towards recognition of same-sex marriage, reports the New York Times.
  • Haitian women are seeking support for children they say are fathered by U.N. troops, reports Reuters.
  • Indigenous communities in Peru's Amazon are employing drones and smart phones to report rain-forest oil-spills that have been ignored for decades, reports the Guardian. Oil contamination has seeped into the entire food chain they depend on, say community leaders, and particularly affects children who suffer sometimes mortal complications.

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